Air Force Combat Vet MJ Hegar Launches Senate Bid in Texas

MJ Hegar served in the Air Force for 12 years, first as an aircraft maintenance mechanic and later as a pilot. She deployed three times to Afghanistan, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross on her final tour. Courtesy MJ Hegar’s campaign
MJ Hegar served in the Air Force for 12 years, first as an aircraft maintenance mechanic and later as a pilot. She deployed three times to Afghanistan, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross on her final tour. Courtesy MJ Hegar’s campaign

Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar is on the campaign trail again, but this time seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate.

"Allow me to reintroduce myself," she says in a new campaign video launched on social media Tuesday. Hegar, who's running as a Democrat, hopes to unseat Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who has represented Texas alongside Sen. Ted Cruz since 2002.

Hegar lost to eight-term Republican incumbent John Carter in Texas' 31st Congressional District in November. As part of that campaign, she launched another powerful campaign video, "Doors," that quickly went viral last summer. In that video, Hegar told her story of surviving childhood domestic abuse and the negative effects of gender inequality during her U.S. Air Force career.

Despite her loss, Hegar said that campaign was effective.

"It helped change the status quo," she says in her new video. "Washington still has a lot of listening to do, and I'm going to make sure they hear us."

She continues, "We Texans don't give up easy. And everything we've accomplished is just the beginning."

Hegar raised more than $5.1 million during her first campaign, according to Roll Call, but remains millions behind Cornyn in fundraising. Still, she cites the campaign of Beto O'Rourke, who challenged Cruz in November and lost by a three-point margin, or by nearly 215,000 votes.

"It wasn't just our race. Beto nearly won a Texas Senate race and dropped the F-bomb on live TV," Hegar says in the video. "Talk about Texas making its voice heard."

RELATED: MJ Hegar Sued the Pentagon and Won. Now She's Running for Congress

Hegar, a combat veteran, was one of four female veterans who signed onto a lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in 2012 against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, calling restrictions against women serving in ground combat units unconstitutional.

Resolution ultimately did not come through the courts; the case remains open. But amid mounting pressure, Panetta reversed the ban in January 2013, paving the way for women to serve in previously closed units.

"In the military, we are thrown into a melting pot of cultures and communities, and we disagree a lot on how to accomplish the mission. But when it comes time to get the work done, we focus our energy on accomplishing the mission," Hegar said in an interview with Military.com last year. "We've got to tell our stories to influence culture, and we have to get more people elected who have faced challenges like domestic violence, working minimum-wage jobs, wondering how to get food on the table ... regular people."

Hegar served in the Air Force first as an aircraft maintenance mechanic working on F-16 Fighting Falcons and then B-2 Spirit bombers between 2000 and 2004. Her memoir, "Shoot Like a Girl," which contains the occasional F-bomb, was published in 2017.

Hegar experienced sexual assault in the Air Force. Her commanding officer helped her file paperwork to deal with the crime internally, but justice never came. It was one of the reasons she left active duty when an opportunity to fly HH-60 Pave Hawks in the Air National Guard opened up in 2004.

On her third tour in Afghanistan in 2009, Hegar, co-piloting a helicopter during a combat search-and-rescue operation, came under direct enemy fire from the Taliban outside Kandahar.

She was shot, but hung on as the helicopter went down a few miles away. Two Army helicopters rescued the downed crew. Hegar returned fire as they circled more than 150 Taliban fighters below. She earned the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with "V" device for her actions, which helped save the lives of those aboard her helicopter.

"I feel like everyone always focuses on the shootdown," she said. "Being a pilot was a lot of hard work ... and I had to demonstrate a skill set that I think will come in handy in D.C. And that was ... to study and be an expert on a multitude of systems and things like that."

Spending the first half of her career as an aircraft maintenance officer gave her experience she said helped her develop management and business leadership skills. "That's definitely more of the experience I lean on," she said.

Hegar served 12 years before separating as a major.

On Tuesday, Cornyn’s campaign likened Hegar to Hollywood and celebrity elite who are opposed to Texas values.

"[Sen. Chuck] Schumer’s hand-picked candidate, MJ Hegar, is challenging John Cornyn in 2020. If elected, she will end all of the progress Texas has made by eliminating private health care, raising taxes and supporting late-term abortion," Cornyn's campaign said via Twitter.

His campaign also posted a quiz on JohnCornyn.com showing a photo of Hegar alongside O'Rourke.

"Who got 65% of their donations from outside of Texas and was supported by Hollywood liberals like Rosie O’Donnell? TAKE THE QUIZ," the campaign said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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